This week's look at the ScienceDebate answers provided by Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama focuses on their replies to a question about the health of our oceans and coastlines. Two areas in particular—declining fisheries and pollution—were highlighted for special consideration. Of course, the oceans also play a major role in driving weather systems and modulating long-term climate conditions, among other things.

We have published numerous articles about various aspects of ocean health. So I thought I would point this week to a few of the most relevant ones. You can find the links below the candidates' answers.

Scientific American will grade the candidates' responses to all 14 questions in our November issue.

Question #10. Ocean Health. Scientists estimate that 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are in serious decline, habitats like coral reefs are threatened, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What role should the federal government play domestically and through foreign policy to protect the environmental health and economic vitality of the oceans?


Mitt Romney's Response:

The health of the world’s fisheries is of paramount economic and environmental importance to not only America but also the global community. Maintenance of those fisheries also represents a significant regulatory challenge, and is indeed often used as an archetypical illustration of a situation in which a market will not succeed without some form of governance. The question, though, is what form of governance should be employed: where are international agreements required, where is government regulation most appropriate, and where can the fishing industry itself serve as the best steward?

The federal government has a vital role to play in conducting sound science and making the resulting data available. Not only federal agencies but also foreign and local governments, regional cooperatives, and industry associations should have access to the data to protect the health and vitality of the oceans and to adjust policy when necessary. A Romney Administration will safeguard the long-term health of fisheries, while welcoming input from the fishermen most affected at every step and seeking to accommodate the needs of these small businessmen wherever possible.


Barack Obama's Response:

I am committed to ensuring that our nation’s vast natural resources are used responsibly, and that we maintain healthy oceans and coasts. By establishing a National Ocean Policy, I made it a priority of the federal government to ensure a proactive approach to improving the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.

We are directing additional funding to Gulf Coast restoration to bring back the fisheries and coastal ecosystems which are still recovering in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill. We kicked off the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades, which is targeting ecological problems such as invasive species, toxic hot spots, and pollution runoff. We are cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay, establishing a “pollution diet” for the Bay that will help restore the natural habitat for fish and other wildlife. We have also invested over $1.4 billion in Everglades’ restoration, helping restore tens of thousands of acres which will serve as a sanctuary for native Florida plants and wildlife. We have created or enhanced more than 540 public coastal recreation areas, protected more than 54,000 acres of coastlines and restored over 5,200 acres of coastal habitat. We are also investing more in monitoring our fishing stock in coastal areas so we have the most accurate data possible on the health of our fisheries. These are significant steps that are helping us improve the health of our oceans and build more robust fisheries.

Now, here's a little light reading from Scientific American on ocean health:


Oceans and Fisheries

It Sounds Fishy, but Cull the Prey and Its Predator Will Thrive

Scientists found that culling older, larger prey fish can lead to more small fish for predators to dine on, even though the overall number of prey decline.

Collapsed Cod Fishery Shows Signs of Life

"Although the ecosystem is still far from stable, [it] may be reverting away from a forage fish-dominated system back to its original predator-dominated ecosystem. [H]addock seem to be more prevalent than cod currently, so it doesn’t mean that the ecosystem will necessarily return to normal. Haddock could reign instead of cod, which would effect the species composition of the entire system."

Preserving Arctic Fisheries Before Harvesting Them

The U.S. mulls creating a Bering Sea fish preserve as salmon and other species migrate north.

The Bluefin Tuna in Peril

The only way to save the bluefin tuna, one of the most marvelous and endangered fish in the ocean, may be to domesticate the species.


Oceans and Coastlines

New Orleans Protection Plan Will Rely on Wetlands to Hold Back Hurricanes

A new plan to protect the Mississippi delta from future storms relies heavily on the restoration of wetlands, rather than levees or seawalls, to cut down high surges of ocean water

Scientists Seek Strategy to Convey Seriousness of Sea-Level Rise

The impact of sea-level rise as a result of global warming will be seen on coastlines around the world over the next several decades and centuries, affecting at least half the world's people.

Salt Marshes Will Absorb Carbon until 2050, but Then Be Overwhelmed

Salt marshes around the world's coasts will help slow climate change until about 2050 by soaking up greenhouse gases but then risk making the problem even worse as sea levels rise, a recent study showed.


Oceans and Pollution

Ocean garbage patches are not growing, so where is all that plastic going?

No one knows for sure but plastic may sink beneath the surface or be consumed by marine organisms.

BP Drilling Disaster Plus 2 Years: Is the Gulf of Mexico Healthy Again?

Fortunately, the entire Gulf ecosystem did not collapse, as many had feared, but researchers still do not know much about the effects on the deep ocean.


Oceans and Climate Change

In Deep Water: Will Essential Ocean Currents Be Altered by Climate Change? [Slide Show]

Scientists are struggling to understand and measure the huge volumes of water flowing through the world's oceans.

Zoning for Oceans: Balancing Our Competing Needs in the Seas

The time when we could do anything we want anywhere we want in the oceans is over.

How Acidification Threatens Oceans from the Inside Out [Preview

The pH of seawater worldwide is dropping (acidifying) as oceans absorb ever more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Experiments show that the struggle by copepods, snails, sea urchins and brittlestars to balance the changing pH inside their bodies impairs their ability to reproduce and grow. Many species are unlikely to genetically adapt to ocean acidification, because the change is occurring too quickly. As species wither, the marine food chain could be disrupted; human action is needed to curtail further acidification.

Global Warming Spurs Ocean Methane Release

About 33 million tons of methane gas, or about 15% of the natural sources of this greenhouse gas, are released from ocean sediments each year. Higher average temperatures could trigger a positive feedback loop, leading to a greater release of methane, which in turn increases temperatures.

Read the candidates’ answers to all 14 questions in full at either or

Election 2012 button used under Creative Commons license BY 2.0.